Oregon Coast Photography – Enjoying A Photographic Wealth

When you’re planning a trip and looking for excellent viewing or photographic opportunities, why not try some Oregon coast photography?  Of course there are numerous well-known places you can count on: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New England in the fall, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and many more.

While these destinations provide nice getaways, the Oregon Coast is another photographers gem.

If you like dramatic scenery, it’s available. If you like wildlife, it’s present in abundance. And if you schedule your trip when there are morning low tides, you’ll discover even more photographic wealth.

oregon coast photography -  tide pool life
Tide pool life can be found at quite a few spots along the coast. 

Although some great locations are kept secret in the hope of avoiding attracting crowds, the Oregon Coast is an area that is trying to establish itself as an eco-tourism destination.

Although it once thrived through logging and fishing, the region is building a tourism base with an emphasis on eco-tourism that, hopefully, includes becoming a desirable destination for photographers. The shift began several years ago when the government limited the logging industry because of the presence of the spotted owl.

While the action didn’t close down the forestry industry, it has caused a change in philosophy. Where the forest was once managed for timber, it’s now managed as a forest. Logging continues, but the clear-cutting and rebuilding that were the rule are replaced with selective cutting to allow the area to return to forest.

As for the fishing industry, the stock of salmon that was severely diminished by over-fishing forced the local fleets to seek other prey, fish that are now declining in numbers as a result.

Bandon Beach  – A can’t miss spot for a wonderful sunset.
Bandon Beach – A can’t miss spot for a wonderful sunset.


Oregon Coast Photography  – Enjoying The Various Moods

Depending upon the time of year you choose to visit Oregon, the seas will greet you with a variety of moods. During May and June, calmness greets you with the sights and sounds of waterfalls flowing over cliffs into tidal pools and the ocean itself. (Late spring is the typical time frame when I run my workshops for the Oregon Coast.)

Views of the sea stacks, arches, and caves are visible all along Highway 101. Access is available at numerous pullouts and parking areas along the coast. In some locations, a short hike is required before you can reach the view or the ocean itself, but the effort is well worth it.

From mid-June into September northwest winds, which shape the coast, make a daily appearance. Valley temperatures that soar into the nineties (Fahrenheit), together with cool northwest winds, cause morning fog. These daily winds reach up to sixty miles per hour, creating a slope in the trees along the cliffs.

When the storms of winter begin in late October and buffet the area through February, one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds are common. Although they’re not everyday occurrence like the winds of summer, the southerly winds of these storms play a major role in creating one of the most dramatic coastlines along the Pacific.

They also provide opportunities for photographers to view their power as they churn the sea into a frenzy with high waves crashing into the sea stacks and archways. As these storms subside in February, light rains follow.

It sounds like there isn’t much nice weather along the Oregon Coast, but no matter when you go, you’ll find good days mixed with a few bad ones.

Early morning light makes for a great shot of the Cape Blanco lighthouse near Port Orford.
Early morning light makes for a great shot of the Cape Blanco lighthouse near Port Orford.

Besides the sea stacks and arches, another prominent feature unique to the coast is the tide pools where an abundance of life is found, where sea stars, sea urchins, anemones, barnacles and mussels are just a few of the many colorful sea creatures.

The only time you can reach the pools is during low tide, so knowing when the tide comes in is very important. You don’t want to become trapped. Even when wading in the pools during low tide, you have to watch for sneaker waves. (These are waves that can occur at any time and send a lot of water into the pools.)

Count on getting wet while shooting the tide pools and have an extra pair of shoes set aside for these shoots. Some of the best tide pools are found at Harris Beach near Brookings, Cape Perpetua near Florence, and Seal Rock State Park between Newport and Waldport.

If your sea animals of choice are a bit larger, you can seek out sea lions and seals. Of the two, seals are the most easily found. One of the best locations is the marina in Gold Beach.

On most days by mid-afternoon, they rest on a sand bar across from the marina and even on the marina itself. In contrast, sea lions can also be found year-round, but they’re harder to reach. Although there are rookeries on the offshore rocks, sea lions are protected by the state, so access is limited.

Occasionally, they come close to shore, but if you want to see them, you need to go to Cape Argo, located about fifty miles north of Port Orford. The lions stay there during the spring and summer months.

With fishing having played a major role for the area both in the past and in the present, many interesting images can be taken in the harbor towns. Among my favorite towns are Coos Bay, Port Orford, Charleston, and Florence. Every harbor along the coast has subjects to offer.

when embarking on an Oregon coast photography trip, you simply need to use your eyes to find something that interests you.

Cape Blanco lighthouse with it’s light on.
Still an active working lighthouse, you can take advantage of the low light just after sunset to get the Cape Blanco lighthouse with it’s light on.

If you like sunrises and sunsets, you’ve come to the right place in Oregon. From the California border on the south to the Washington border on the north, you can find a good spot for the last light of the day no matter where you are.

Bandon Beach, Harris Beach, the lighthouses, and Astoria Bridge are just a few. Of these, you can’t miss a stop at Bandon Beach, as the best sea stacks and pillars on the Oregon Coast are found there.

Alternately, even though the coast faces west, there are numerous spots that offer good sunrises, as well. Morning fog and mist can appear almost any day, adding another element to the images. Popular sunrise spots include Bandon Beach, Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, Newport Harbor if it’s foggy and the Cape Blanco lighthouse.

Several lighthouses along the coast provide photographic opportunities both in the morning and at night. Light falls on these structures (primarily those at Cape Blanco and Yaquina Head, as well as several others) in such a way that great shots can be made at either time of day.

A nice sunset with one of these lighthouses silhouetted in the foreground provides good shooting. (A note about the lighthouse at Yaquina Head near Newport: This is a state park, and the rangers try to move people out at sunset. However, they know they’re in for a longer evening when they see photographers making their way up the hillside to take shots during and after sunset.)

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is also located in Newport. If you’ve ever wanted to take great shots of puffins and oystercatchers, this is a great place to visit. The birds are situated in a multi-pool enclosure that looks very natural. Netting that acts as a roof permits good lighting conditions.

Try to find out when feeding time is, and the opportunities increase with the activity of the birds.

The possibilities for an enjoyable visit don’t end when you move inland. Throughout the Siskiyou National Forest, near the southern part of the state, hiking trails take you through a variety of habitats.

Outside of Brookings, you’ll find the northernmost accessible redwood forest. A one-mile nature trail leads through trees ranging up to eight hundred years old and twenty feet in diameter. You can also find wild rhododendrons, waterfalls, and many moss-covered trees along the trail.

Because of the area’s temperate climate, green is the predominant color year-round, but you’ll discover many varieties of wildflowers in bloom—especially n the spring. Actually, any time of year and nearly any place along the Oregon Coast will give you a great photo trip, no matter what outdoor subjects you prefer.

A foggy morning creates some great mood to the uniquely designed Yaquina Bay Bridge.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is well worth a visit to get puffin, oystercatcher, murre and auk photos.

Rhododendrons are in bloom in May and June up and down the coast in the forests.

Looking out from a sea cave in Port Orford

A sea star clings to a rock at low tide

Oregon coast photography article by Andy Long

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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